The Best Insulated Jacket for Men Review

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We gave The North Face Thermoball a high style score. Brandon could wear this out to dinner no problem, especially here in Colorado.
Credit: Brandon Lampley
What is the best insulated jacket? In this ever-evolving field, we chose 12 of the top-rated models and tested them side-by-side to find out. We evaluated thick jackets and thin ones, models with hoods and without. We wore them under and over shells while skiing and hiking, and as stand alone outer layers. We scored each product in six metrics: warmth, weight and compressibility, comfort, water resistance, wind resistance, and style.

The superlight, warm, and water resistant Rab Xenon X won our Editors' Choice award again this year. The exciting new Patagonia Nano Air Hoody takes home a Top Pick for Breathability, and the burly, time-tested Patagonia DAS Parka wins a Top Pick for Warmth. Finally, The North Face ThermoBall Jacket, with its unique down-like insulation, earned our Best Buy award.

Our review of Women's Insulated Jackets compares the best models for the ladies. Many of the products in that review are the women's versions of the jackets tested here, and our testers' observations provide excellent additional information.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Insulated Jackets - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Rab Xenon X
Rab Xenon X
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody
Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody
Read the Review
Patagonia Nano Air Hoody
Patagonia Nano Air Hoody
Read the Review
The North Face ThermoBall Jacket
The North Face ThermoBall Jacket
Read the Review
Patagonia DAS Parka
Patagonia DAS Parka
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award 
Street Price Varies $172 - $215
Compare at 2 sellers
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$299
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Varies $156 - $199
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Very warm for its weight, stuffs into pocket, wind and water resistantWarm, comfy adjustable hood, great wrist cuffs, fleece lined pocketsSoft and stretchy fabrics, excellent breathability and wicking, lots of comfort featuresWarm, light, very compressible, layers well, affordableWarmest insulated jacket, designed for cold weather climbing
Cons Poor breathabilityBulky, relatively expensiveExpensive, poor wind resistancePoor wind resistance, no chest pocketBulky and heavy
Best Uses Multi-pitch climbing, backpacking, hiking, alpine climbingMid layer for really cold weather, winter climbing, skiing, around townHigh energy activities in cold weather, hiking, backpacking, casual wearMid layer for all activities, casual wearIce climbing, alpine climbing, outdoor winter work
Date Reviewed Nov 19, 2014Nov 20, 2014Nov 21, 2014Nov 22, 2014Nov 24, 2014
Weighted Scores Rab Xenon X Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody Patagonia Nano Air Hoody The North Face ThermoBall Jacket Patagonia DAS Parka
Warmth - 30%
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Weight - 25%
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Comfort - 20%
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Water Resistance - 10%
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Wind Resistance - 10%
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Style - 5%
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Product Specs Rab Xenon X Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody Patagonia Nano Air Hoody The North Face ThermoBall Jacket Patagonia DAS Parka
Weight 13.1 oz 17.2 oz 14.1 oz 12.9 oz 25.6 oz
Insulation 60g/m2 PrimaLoft Gold 120g/m2 Coreloft body, 80g/m2 underarms, 60g/m2 hood 60g/m2 FullRange PrimaLoft ThermoBall 120g/m2 PrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft, extra layer of 60g/m2 PrimaLoft Gold around torso
Outer Fabric 20D nylon ripstop, Pertex Quantum Gossamera nylon 20D nylon ripstop 15D nylon ripstop 20D nylon ripstop, PU coated
Number of Pockets 2 zippered hand, 1zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest 2 zippered hand, 2 zippered chest 2 zippered hand 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest, 2 large internal mesh
Hood Yes Yes Yes No, option Yes
Color Options 3 4 4 15 3
Stuffs Into Itself? Yes, clip loop No No Yes, clip loop No, stuff sack included

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products

Selecting the Right Product
An insulated jacket is an essential layer for cool and cold weather. This type of jacket is generally intended for wear as either a middle layer under a shell or as an outer layer in warmer weather. Our selection spans new breathable insulation technologies that allow better warmth and sweat management for high energy activity and models that focus on wind and water resistance. We also evaluated a few heavier or waterproof models designed as outer layers. All of the products we tested in this review are insulated with various types of synthetic insulation. These are modern alternatives to goose down do a much better job of retaining their loft and insulating ability when damp or wet.

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The Patagonia Nano Air, our favorite jacket for high energy activities. The soft fabric and FullRange insulation move warm moist air, providing the widest range of use among the models we tested.
Credit: Natasha Halevi

Despite its benefits when wet, synthetic insulation is less warm for its weight than goose down. You'll find reviews of state-of-the-art down insulating layers in our Men's Down Jacket Review and Men's Winter Jacket Review. The pieces in the down jacket category are similar in warmth to the products tested in this review, though they are generally a little lighter and more compressible. The winter jackets are burly, down-insulated parkas ideal for hunkering down in the coldest weather and are intended as an outermost layer.

Synthetic Insulated Jacket vs. Down or Fleece
Let's take a minute and make the case for choosing synthetic insulation over down. Generally speaking, down is much warmer for its weight than synthetic insulation. In terms of offering weight-efficient warmth, synthetics have yet to match mother nature, though the gap is closing. Down however, has one major drawback - it is vulnerable to moisture. Down loses its loft and its ability to keep you warm when it gets wet. This is synthetic insulation's defining attribute. It is not nearly as susceptible to moisture, and better maintains its insulating capabilities when wet.

A jacket with synthetic insulation, used as a mid layer under a shell, will not lose its warmth by accumulating sweat like down is prone to do. Used as an outer layer, insulated jackets also have extended functionality in snow or light rain. Moreover, they are often more affordable than down and offer better weather versatility and great value. Fleeces also commonly serve as both mid layers and sometimes as outer layers. Although synthetic insulated jackets are warmer for their weight than fleece and offer better weather protection when used as an outer layer, fleece is more breathable and much cozier. Check out our Buying Advice article for an in-depth comparison of down and synthetic insulation, including the new 'synthetic down' ThermoBall insulation and information about hydrophobic treatments for down.

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The products in this review are ideal for conditions where you might get wet, but still need to stay warm!
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Types of Insulated Jackets
We've tested a diverse group of products this go round. Along the warmth continuum are thin pieces built with 60g/m2 insulating fibers and models with upwards of 200g/m2 insulation in the torso area. In addition, some of the designs focus on breathability and comfort for high energy use, while others focus on wind and water resistance. As we compared the products in this review, we found these models tended to fall into loose groups.

Lightweight, High Breathability
First, we have a group of lightly insulated jackets that either have insulation specifically engineered for breathability or design features that promote breathability. The Nano Air and Rab Strata Hoody use new insulating fibers engineered to increase their comfort range with improved air flow. Several of these models have stitching sewn through the shell, which promotes air flow when the wind blows and creates thousands of small holes for warm air to move through when worn under a shell. The Atom LT is uniquely built with large, stretchy fleece side and underarms panels for air flow. The Nano Air is the most breathable model we tested. It is able to handle high energy activity, allowing warm, moist air to escape. Products in this category include:

Patagonia Nano Air Hoody (Top Pick for Breathability)
Rab Strata Hoody
Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody
The North Face ThermoBall (Best Buy)
Montbell UL Thermawrap

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The Patagonia Nano Air (left) uses FullRange insulation and soft, wicking inner and outer fabrics to move warm, moist air away from your body. The Arc'teryx Atom LT (right) takes a different approach to breathability, incorporating Polartec Power Stretch panels under the arms.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Lightweight, High Wind Resistance
As we continue along the lightweight jacket continuum, we find lightly insulated products that are less capable of shedding heat and sweat (less breathable), and instead focus on protecting you from wind and a little bit of rain or snow. The Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody balances breathability and wind resistance well. It does have a sewn-through exterior fabric, but also a continuous inner liner that serves to block air flow from the outside and promote the wicking away of sweat. The Xenon X and Havoc both use continuous outer shell fabrics designed to block wind and resist water. Products in this category include:

Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
Rab Xenon X (Editors' Choice)
Outdoor Research Havoc

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The Rab Xenon X's shell has very few seams in its 20D Pertex Quantum outer fabric. This jacket is excellent at stopping the wind, and still breathes relatively well.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Medium to Heavy Insulated Jackets
Next, there's a group of products that have more insulation…and, in the case of the Ice Guide and DAS, significantly more. These two heavily insulated jackets also have outer fabrics with additional water resistance, as they are likely to be worn as a terminal layer. The two medium insulated jackets, the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Compressor and Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody are still primarily designed as mid layers, but they are cushier, warmer mid layers than the lightly insulated models listed above. Products in this category include:

Mountain Hardwear Hooded Compressor
Arc'teryx Atom AR
Montane Ice Guide
Patagonia DAS (Top Pick for Warmth)

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The Patagonia DAS parka is the best heavily-insulated model we tested, great for hunkering down at cold belays. The Arc'teryx Atom AR, with a medium amount of insulation, is a brilliant truly cold weather mid layer.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Criteria For Evaluation
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Several of the models we tested for this years review. Heavily insulated, lightly insulated, great at blocking the wind, focused on breathability for high energy use... each model has its own best use.
Credit: Brandon Lampley
Warmth
Why buy an insulated jacket? To stay warm of course. First and foremost, the jacket you choose needs to keep you warm in the weather you plan to use it in. We've weighted this metric most heavily - 30% of each model's overall score. As we detailed above, down is warmer for the weight than synthetic insulation, and the scores we've awarded to the jackets we tested compare their warmth relative to each other. These models span thicker pieces that are intended as an outermost layer in truly cold weather and thinner pieces intended to be used as mid layers. These thinner jackets also make excellent outer layers for around town wear in the cooler months or until the weather gets wet nasty.

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The Atom AR is the warmest model we tested designed primarily as a mid layer. It's super warm for its weight and does double duty as an outer layer in clear, cold conditions. Zac Castillo at Vedauwoo, WY.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

The Patagonia DAS - our Top Pick for Warmth - is the warmest model we tested, as well as the heaviest and least compressible. It makes a perfect belay jacket for ice routes and winter climbing. It also has several nice climbing-oriented features, including large interior mesh pockets and a beefy two-way zipper that also opens from the bottom up. The Atom AR, with 120g/m2 torso insulation is a brilliant mid layer for truly cold weather and a stylish jacket for cold casual wear. If you downhill ski in a hardshell, this medium insulated jacket is a great mid layer for cold lift rides. Among the lighter weight models we tested, the Xenon X and ThermoBall, both award winners, provided the most warmth for their weight. However, the Xenon X is much more wind resistant and warmer when used as an outer layer. The lightest jacket in the review, the UL Thermawrap, was also the least warm. It is an excellent light, compressible layer for backpacking and thru-hiking.

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The Xenon X worked well on this windy overnight into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lake, CO.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Weight and Compressibility
An insulated jacket is one of those pieces that we find ourselves taking everywhere, and here at OutdoorGearLab, light is usually right. All else being near equal, we'll choose the lighter and more compressible model almost every time. Our scores for weight and compressiblity contribute 25% to overall scores. The lightest, most compressible jacket we tested is the Montbell UL Thermawrap Jacket. It uses the lightest insulation - 50g/m2 Exceloft - and is a superlight mid layer. The Xenon X and ThermoBall are the next lightest models we tested and both have outstanding warmth-to-weight ratios. Both weigh more or less 13 ounces, but the ThermoBall model that we tested does not have a hood. If you prioritize warmth for weight, it's hard to beat the Editors' Choice Xenon X.

We also greatly appreciate a jacket that stows away in one of its pockets. This feature makes just-in-case storage in a backpack easy and serves to keep the outer fabric clean and protect its DWR treatment from wear. Five of the twelve models we tested stuff into a pocket and the UL Thermawrap comes with a small stuff sack. The Xenon X and and Nano Puff Hoody are our favorite stuffable pieces; both are compact, have a clip loop, and regularly traveled on our tester's harness.

On the other end of the spectrum, big, heavily insulated products like the Patagonia DAS don't compress well. This product is designed for warmth and uses a type of PrimaLoft insulation known for its loft rather than its compressibility. Expect the DAS to take up a lot of space in your pack.

Four of the competitors are pictured stuffed below. While the Xenon X and Nano Puff are very similar in size when stowed in their pockets, the Xenon X could compress even smaller, while the Nano Puff is packed in there fairly tightly. The Thermoball and UL Thermawrap can both be compressed to less than half the size we see here. Why is this? While synthetic insulations have become more compressible over the years, long term durability is still an issue. These fibers ability to rebound to their full loft decreases with repeated compression, and the more tightly you compact them, the more wear and tear you put on their fine fiber matrices.

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Left to right: the Xenon X, Nano Puff Hoody, and ThermoBall all stuff into a pocket and have a clip in loop. The UL Thermawrap comes with a small stuff sack.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Comfort
In this category, we assessed the small details that made each product more comfortable as well as the mobility of each test piece. Some move with you better than others and some have micro fleece lined chin guards or hand pockets that deliver lots of happiness for minimal weight. Let's discuss mobility first; this is an important attribute for a jacket. When you reach overhead for a climbing hold, a model that stays put on your torso without the waist hem being tugged upwards is appreciated. We also assessed how easily we could move our arms and the mobility of the hoods (when applicable). Ease of use is also an important consideration when we compare jackets. Nice zipper pulls, pockets in just the right places, and convenient hood adjustments are a few of the features that contribute to higher comfort scores. In each product's individual review, we provide a run down of the small details that make us love certain models. Scores awarded for comfort contribute 20% of each model's overall score.

We quickly came to love the comfort (a perfect 10!) of the new Patagonia Nano Air. The soft, stretchy fabrics feel great, provide unmatched mobility, and wick away sweat. The hood fits and feels great and this product is the only one we tested with two exterior chest pockets, a simple but very useful feature. Both the Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody and warmer Atom AR from Arc'teryx also received high comfort scores. Both these models have comfy, low-bulk cuffs, well-shaped zipper pulls, and great mobility. The Xenon X also scores well for comfort; its light fabrics and lofty insulation just plain old feel good and the snug hood, which features large microfleece chin and neck patches, was our favorite of the bunch.

We really like a hood on insulated jackets, as it provides a cozy warmth upgrade for very little weight. A hood is also impossible to lose, unlike a hat or scarf. That said, a hood can sometimes get in the way if you're planning to wear this layer primarily under a shell with its own hood. Many of the hooded models we tested are available in a hoodless model; it's also important to note that we did not penalize the test models without a hood, the ThermoBall and UL Thermawrap, in either comfort or warmth.

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Small details make all the difference for comfort and ease-of-use. Arc'teryx's superior zipper pulls, the Xenon X's micro fleece neck, the Nano Air's plush lining, and the UL Thermawrap's snug, comfy wrist cuff.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Water Resistance
Insulated jackets are not usually designed to be waterproof outer layers; for jackets that are essentially insulated hardshells, be sure to check out our men's ski jacket review. What all of the models in this review have in common is a DWR-treated outer fabric. Although an insulated jacket is never a substitute for a rain shell, this treatment is applied to the outer fabric to make it bead water in minor drizzles or unexpected snow storms. We put some high energy mileage on each of the lightweight models under a shell and noticed that the less breathable ones definitely got damp with sweat. You never want to store away damp clothing and we made a general note of how quickly each dried in the sunshine and incorporated this into our score.

The Xenon X was the most water resistant of the products tested. Its 20D nylon rip stop fabric has a Pertex Quantum coating that works great in light rain and snow. While this model is not seam-taped, its shell design minimizes the number of seams. The Xenon X and the Outdoor Research Havoc, with its Gore Windstopper fabric, are the only light models we'd purposefully wear without a shell during a short, light rain. The heavily insulated Patagonia DAS, built with a PU coated rip stop outer fabric, is also very water resistant. Water resistance scores contribute 10% of overall scores.

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While we tested several jackets with waterproof or water resistant outer fabric, all the models have a DWR treatment to repel minor rain and snow. The North Face Thermoball was notable as well, as the down-like insulation dries faster than others when it gets wet.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Wind Resistance
We've all been caught out when the wind started howling. A strong wind can easily make your once-cozy jacket completely inadequate. The small town of Nederland, Colorado, is known for its cold, slice-right-through-ya winds that barrel down from the Continental Divide. This provided us with the perfect conditions for to evaluate our test models' wind resistance. After standing out in the blustering breeze, we weighted wind resistance with 10% of our overall score.

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Where's that cold wind gonna get in? The Rab Xenon X is the most wind resistant of the lightly insulated models we tested. It's also very water resistant.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Most of the products we tested for this review are designed to be worn primarily as a mid layer, with a rain jacket, wind jacket, or hardshell added over top when it starts blowing hard. Our Top Pick for Breathability - the Patagonia Nano Air - plus the Strata Hoody and Atom LT all have materials intended to let the wind in and body heat out; as a result, they earned very low wind resistance scores. These are great layers for high energy activities, where the added breathability lets your sweat escape and counters overheating.

Models with a continuous or near continuous outer fabric do a better job of stopping the wind. Our Editors' Choice award winner, the Xenon X, with its Pertex Quantum outer fabric, is an exceptionally windproof piece considering its low bulk. Unsurprisingly, the medium and heavy weight models we tested are also more wind resistant than the lightly insulated models due to their added bulk.

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This combo on a COLD and windy day was perfect. Layering the Arc'teryx Atom AR over the top during break time, and the Rab Xenon X over a base layer for being on the move in the wind.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Style
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we've done our best to assign a style score to each of these pieces. Puffy jackets aren't just outdoor recreation items these days and some of these products just look better than others for around-town wear. Some of these, the ThermoBall for example, have lots of quilted stitching in the outer fabric, creating a distinctive look. Most have a shiny, techy looking rip stop nylon shell, but the Atom AR and Nano Air have a softer, more matte look and feel. You will find many photos of each product in their individual reviews, including close ups of their outer fabric, and front and back views. Style ratings contribute 5% of overall scores.

We really like a hood on insulated jackets, as it provides a great warmth upgrade, but a floppy hood on your shoulders isn't exactly an out-to-dinner look. Two of our test models - The North Face ThermoBall and Montbell UL Thermawrap - do not have a hood, but many of the other jackets are available without a hood if you desire.

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We gave The North Face Thermoball a high style score. Brandon could wear this out to dinner no problem, especially here in Colorado.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

Care and Feeding of Insulated Jackets
Your insulated jacket is a workhorse piece and it will get dirty. As a mid layer, body oils and funk will accumulate over time - outer wear gets all kinds of dirty when you're playing hard. Washing and drying these jackets is far easier than caring for down. Always consult the manufacturer's care instructions, but a trip through the washer on cold or warm water with powdered detergent, works great. Throw your jacket in the dryer on the lowest heat setting and you're done.

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Testing mobility on a sunny but cold Fall day at Flagstaff Mtn, Boulder, CO. The Arc'teryx Atom LT is one of our favorite pieces to climb in.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

All the products in this review have a DWR treatment of some sort on the outer fabric and you'll want it to continue working over time. Often washing and drying will do a good job restoring a DWR coating that has begun to wet out (accumulating a film of water rather than beading it). Try a short dose of medium heat in the dryer.

Eventually, it will be necessary to reapply a DWR treatment to your jacket to keep it beading water like new. We prefer spray-on products as opposed to the wash in varieties. We want the outer fabric to resist water well, but the lining to be able to absorb and wick moisture from sweat away towards the outside. Wash your jacket, warm it up in the dryer, and spray on your product of choice. We find 'baking on' the new polymers with hot air from a hair dryer increases their lifespan. Nikwax and Granger produce full lines of fabric treatments, including spray-on and wash-in varieties.

Editors' Choice Award: Rab Xenon X
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The Xenon X is super warm for its weight and blocks the wind and weather quite well. Here, Brandon is out testing weather resistance while getting some good mid-November turns in.
Credit: Nick Andresen

For the second year in a row, the Rab Xenon X easily takes home our Editors' Choice award. What's not to like about this product? It is quite light and very warm considering. Our favorite features include a micro-fleece-lined collar and ergonomic zipper pulls. Highly wind and water resistant, our Editors' Choice winner is a perfect choice for folks that tend to forgo a truly waterproof shell layer when headed out into the wilderness. The Xenon X stuffs neatly into its chest pocket and we love it for hiking, backpacking, climbing, and skiing.

Best Buy Award: The North Face ThermoBall Jacket
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The North Face ThermoBall Full Zip is light, warm, and a great performer for the price. It's our favorite to layer under a light shell.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

As always, this award goes to the model that delivers the most performance relative to its price. Like the Xenon X, The North Face ThermoBall Jacket is warm for its weight. We found the new down-like ThermoBall insulation very lofty and quick to dry if it gets wet. This was our favorite light mid layer, and it's stylish for casual wear to boot.

Top Pick Award for Breathability: Patagonia Nano Air Hoody
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Our Top Pick for Breathability, the Patagonia Nano Air is perfect for moving fast on chilly days. With its soft, stretchy fabrics, it's definitely comfortable for all-day wear.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

The Patagonia Nano Air Hoody was designed for high octane endeavors like backcountry skiing and steep uphill approaches, which is why it won our Top Pick for Breathability. It keeps you warm, but is much more capable of remaining comfortable over an extended range of temperatures and activity levels. The soft, stretchy fabrics inside and out feel great, provide excellent mobility, and wick sweat to the outside. We also love the soft touch of the hood's lining and the TWO easy-to-access zippered chest pockets. Tired of needing to take off your warm layer to keep from overheating? Not anymore.

Top Pick Award for Warmth: Patagonia DAS Parka
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Over the hardshell jacket, over harness, over everything. The Patagonia DAS is the warmest synthetic 'belay parka' out there.
Credit: Brandon Lampley

This is a layer that is designed for hunkering down, whether you're at a cold belays out ice climbing, or making camp in the winter. The Patagonia DAS Parka, or 'Dead Air Space' parka, has a PU coated outer fabric for water resistance, lots of insulation layered just where it's needed, and a stiffened brim on the hood. Two internal mesh pockets hold water bottles to keep them from freezing, or your damp gloves to dry them next to your cozy warm torso. With this much warmth and all the added features, it's no surprise that the DAS took home our Top Pick for Warmth.

Brandon Lampley
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